Tuesday, October 12, 2010

How much hope for new preK-8 schools?

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools will hold the first of its public forums today (6-8 p.m. at the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Government Center, 600 E. Fourth St.) on proposals to close high-poverty, low-scoring middle schools and move the students to new preK-8 schools housed at current elementary schools.

Belatedly, here's a link to the Johns Hopkins University study comparing achievement in Philadelphia K-8 and middle schools, which Superintendent Peter Gorman handed out to the school board recently. The hard copy the board got was 56 pages, and this journal article sent by CMS is 35, but as best I can tell from a quick scan, it covers the same key points.

Interestingly, the copy the board got had lots of yellow highlights on pages 6 and 7 (pages 3 and 4 on the link), where the researchers summarize other studies that have found higher test scores, better attendance, more satisfied parents and stronger neighborhood ties at K-8 schools. The highlighted sections also note apparent benefits from avoiding the transition to a new school in sixth grade, when academic performance often slumps. That's a point CMS leaders have emphasized in pushing for the local changes.

But if you keep reading, the researchers note that those studies were small and not highly rigorous; the Johns Hopkins crew set out to do a more sophisticated analysis of how much advantage such schools really have and what factors are linked to those benefits.

Keep reading even further, past a lot of stuff that's tough going for those of us who aren't  researchers or statisticians, and you get to some conclusions that seem to undermine the premise of CMS's plan. These researchers found that the advantages of merging elementary and middle-school grades are relatively small when other factors are accounted for, and that "a district is not likely to replicate the K-8 advantage based upon size and school transition alone if its student population is predominantly from high-minority and high-poverty backgrounds."

The study also warns that the cost of converting to K-8 schools can be high: "(A)dministrators must ask themselves if such a massive reform is truly worth the resources given the likely impacts. They must also compare it to other possible reforms and decide if with K-8 conversions, they are getting the best possible 'bang for their buck' in terms of reform finances."

I assume CMS leaders are asking those questions, since they distributed the study. I'm still playing phone tag to get their answers. More on that in the very near future.


Anonymous said...

As always, I wonder if the BOE actually does research and extensive reading when considering these massive district-level changes, or are they just looking at what someone else has already highlighed for them and making life-altering community decisions based on the cliff notes?

wiley coyote said...

If the board did extensive research, it wouldn't have gutted the magnet transportation system over the summer, implement the new plan at the start of the school year, then turn around two months later to suggest we need to make drastic cuts to minimize a budget shortfall they already knew they had.

Why not wait until now to change all of it?


pamgrundy said...

Thanks for reading the whole study, Ann. As it says, K-8 is no silver bullet. And under the proposed plan, the disruptions would be even greater because instead of building K-8 schools one grade at a time, rising 7th and 8th graders would be pulled out of their existing schools, have to transition into new K-8 situations, then have to make yet another transition into high school. Would you want a child of yours to go through this? It doesn't strike me as a process likely to produce success, either for the students making the transitions, or at the newly expanded schools. If you have to have K-8, dding one grade to the new schools at a time seems a far better strategy.

There's a quote in the Washington Post education reformers "manifesto" that makes me want to throw up.

"Closing a neighborhood school -- whether it's in Southeast D.C., Harlem, Denver or Chicago -- is a difficult decision that can be very emotional for a community. But no one ever said leadership is easy."

Oh, those poor suffering leaders! The hard part about closing a school is not dealing with emotions. It's ensuring that the students at the closed school will have better educational opportunities at whatever alternative you provide. That's what systems across the country -- including Arne Duncan's Chicago -- have failed to do. This plan doesn't look much more promising.

pamgrundy said...

sorry: "adding one grade"

wiley coyote said...

Obama says D.C. schools struggling now President Obama said Monday his daughters could not get the same quality of education from D.C. public schools that they get from the private Sidwell Friends school.

The president's comments came in an appearance on the "Today" television show as he was being interviewed in the White House by NBC's Matt Lauer.

Anonymous said...


It's consistent with how Gorman uses research to serve his ends. He's not the only one of course. The whole "Waiting For Superman" nonsense is the same deal. Just like the devil can quote scripture for his own purposes, anyone can find at least one study supporting their position. Ask Big Tobacco.

The greater concern is of course, Pay for Performance, which enjoys even less support than K-8, but is the darling of 'reformers' everywhere. Gorman seems so determined to ram this onto his resume that the rumor is he's going to find a way to keep teachers from being able to vote on it, as is currently planned.

I hope this is a story you are working on. Charlotte parents deserve better.

carol said...

It was my understanding the the BOE had pledged to not combine high poverty, low performing schools when closing schools. Yet that is exactly what they are doing in the preK-8 plan.

Also, look at this from the perspective of a current 6th or 7th graders. They will get the message loud and clear that they have failed and are being sent back to elementary school -- and two thirds of their friends are being set to DIFFERENT elementary schools.

The new "instant" preK-8 schools will be home to some understandably very hostile middle schoolers. This could be solved by the 'grow your own' strategy mentioned by pamgrundy.

Anonymous said...

Check out this latest research on the effect on students of closing these schools. Educational Leadership Magazine "Drastic School Turnaround Strategies are Risky"


Anonymous said...

Re: Pay for Performance
... the rumor is he's going to find a way to keep teachers from being able to vote on it, as is currently planned.

Is this true? If so -this is a drastic change from what teachers have been told.

Anonymous said...

Welcome to Pete's Big Rock Candy Mountain where teachers are allowed to vote for the birds and the bees and the cigarette trees. Pay for Performance.....don't count on it. Today's NY Times also questioned the recent performances of our education guru Mr. Canada's charter schools in the latest testing at 16k+ per student. Time for some polish for that silver bullet.

Anonymous said...

A little off topic with the latest breaking news...I am happy that parents on the westside of Charlotte are finally recognizing that CMS is failing their children by putting inadequate and ill prepared principals into impoverished schools! Moreover, instead of retaining wonderful veteran teachers at these schools, the BOE is allowing Peter to have Teach for America participants practice their 2 year trade on a part of America's future.

Keep up the good work! Fight for a quality education for your children!!

Anonymous said...

Earlier this year at the budget hearings, Trent Merchant said that folks "sit on their butts for 364 days" and then come to the school board meeting to complain. Well, Mr. Merchant, their not sitting on their butts now! So why won't you listen?????

Anonymous said...

What about K - 6 schools? I thought there was some hard data that this configuration helps student achievement.

My brother and I attended a small K-12 public school for 3 years in a poor rural area in upstate NY. Each grade had 2 small classes. The school was the center of the community since there wasn't anything else around except chickens, cows, an eccentric lady who lived with beavers and a local swimming hole. Our band teacher (grades 4 - 12) would regularly drive us 45 minutes away to experience the closest symphony and the ballet. My family eventually moved us to a better school system in a different state. My brother went on to major in physics at an Ivy League university. I went on to earn a master's degree in the fines arts on full scholarship at a highly ranked university in the Washington DC area. You know you're a redneck if....?

Therefore, I'm not sure where I stand on this issue except there does seem to be a difference between poor rural schools and poor urban schools.

Anonymous said...

The Board and Peter the Great are all losers that need to be on the next thing smoking and out of the decision making process , the community forum was a joke last night , it provided no answers just them writing down our concerns. repeal this plan , and start over